Past Wives of Asia

LEE HAN SHIH
Dec 15, 2008
*Special to asia!
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Jiang Qing – Murderess Most Foul?

Jiang Qing, who ruled China when her husband Mao Zedong was in his dotage, does not exist officially. The current crop of Chinese leaders blames her for helping Mao launch the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), which led to the deaths of untold millions. Jiang, an actress and Mao’s fourth wife, was arrested soon after her husband's death in 1976, imprisoned and died in 1991 at the age of 73, defiant to the end. Jiang was the leader of the notorious Gang of Four and was responsible for many of the atrocities during one of the darkest period of Chinese history. But she could not have done all the damage herself, or even with the help of the other three of the gang. Many of China's rulers today were involved 40 years ago. Unless they face up to it, China will never be able to learn from its terrible mistake.


Ibu Tien – Madam 10 Per Cent
When Siti Hartinah Suharto died in April 1996, aged 72, she was seen as one of the richest and most unscrupulous women in Asia. A Javanese who married an obscure soldier whom she groomed to the presidency, Ibu (mother) Tien was as greedy as she was ambitious, taking a 10% cut on every major public project for the three decades Suharto was in power (hence her nickname). She passed the practice down to all six of her children, who competed with each other to grab money and peddle influence. (Ibu Tien died of a heart attack. A rumour in Jakarta said it was due to the shock of seeing Tommy, her third son, pull a gun on his second brother Bambang because of a dispute over a lucrative deal.) Her death robbed Suharto of his closest confidante and left her children out of control. When the Asian Crisis hit the following year, Suharto went to pieces and Indonesia descended into chaos and bloodshed.

Sonia Gandhi – Four funerals and a wedding
Sonia Gandhi, 60, has just blocked a movie to be made on her life, featuring Monica Belluci. It was to be called Sonia, The Movie. A better title would be Four Funerals and A Wedding. Upon the death of India’s first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1964, his daughter Indira Gandhi, the second PM, sent her elder son Rajiv to Cambridge. Rajiv met and married an Italian, Edvige Maino, now called Sonia. In 1980, Rajiv was pushed into politics after his brother Sanjay died piloting a stunt plane. In 1984 he took over as PM after his mother was assassinated. In 1991 he was killed by a suicide bomber. In 1998 Sonia, the quiet housewife, was persuaded to lead the Congress Party. She is now the de facto ruler of India. Sonia is keen to pass the leadership to her son, Rahul, while fending off attempts by Sanjay’s widow and son, Maneka and Varun, to do the same. Sounds like the plot for another movie.

lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.

 

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